Novi Sad, Serbia
Novi Sad is my introduction to Serbia. The second-largest city in the country, it’s the first main hub I get to on the train down from Budapest and I jump off here.
It’s not a station fit for a metropolis.. but, then again, Novi Sad is not one.
It’s evening and I head straight for a hotel. The owner greets me warmly, makes the obligatory reference to kangaroos when I tell him where I’m from, then starts to chat.
He tells me it’s a family business and that Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic is currently winning his match at Wimbledon.
At least, these are the two key points I think I understand. He speaks with a mix of English, Serbian and enthusiastic expressions and expects me to understand. His favourite words are ‘super’ and ‘wow’.
“Room has super bathroom. Wow!”
“Weather good. Super. Wow!”
I appreciate the effort and try to keep my responses limited to words with as few syllables as possible. I also speak highly of Djokovic and his forehand. He really is a very kind man.
After a bit of pigeon English and a few hand gestures, he recommends a nearby restaurant for dinner. The waiter speaks slightly more English and helps me with the menu.
“Would you like a Serbian salad too?” he asks.
“Do you know what is in it?”
We both laugh for some reason, although I’m not sure exactly why. I realise why when the salad arrives and is full of green chillies. Slav like it hot.
It’s not even been a few hours and already I’m impressed by the kindness and friendliness of those I’ve met. There’s a warmth (even without the chillies) that is welcoming.
All I knew of Serbia before I decided to come here was war crimes and gun-smuggling villains from Hollywood movies.
So far nobody has had a truck of AK47s or even an evil-signifying face scar!
Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia
Over the next few weeks I will be bringing you some correspondence from Serbia.
Hopefully it will show you what’s on offer from a tourist’s perspective of the country but also delve a little into the culture, the history and, in particular, how recent events have shaped the nation.
I suppose there’s no better place to start than Novi Sad which – although a friend described it as very Hungarian – is a good example of the blend of old history and new.
The city is know these days for two things: the impressive fortress which overlooks the city across the river and the music festival which is held in it every year.
The Petrovaradin Fortress was built in the seventeenth century to protect Novi Sad from the Turkish. It dominates the view along the river and reminds the citizens that conflict in this part of the world is not restricted to this generation but has been ever present.
Still, it has also been the scene of one of the most recent when the Exit Festival was launched in 2000. It had the express aim of calling for the end of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, the controversial President at the time.
Despite his removal from power a few months later, the festival continues and preparations are underway for this year’s event as I visit.
In the main streets of the central part of the city, there’s a modern attitude to social values amongst the traditional architecture.
Cafes line the pavements, large pedestrian areas encourage the ebb and flow of daily life, and kilometres of bike paths keep the traffic in check.
Hip bars and restaurants host people all day long and in front of the city’s biggest Orthodox church, a DJ spins tracks to promote the upcoming festival.
I use the free wifi in the central city to check the lineup. I see a few familiar names from my time working in Australian media and I realise how small the world is.
I wonder. Is this what I should expect from the rest of my trip through Serbia?
Am I going to discover that a world away, through bombs and dictators, after centuries of nationalistic conflict and realignment, that this country is just as ‘super’ as all of ours? Wow!
13 thoughts on “Arriving in Serbia”
It’s one of the most enlightening yet oddly disappointing things about travelling the world: realising it’s more similar than we expect. Just booked my flight to Belgrade so will be looking to your posts for inspiration.
We’re going to Serbia for part of honeymoon this summer! I can’t wait. I feel like it’s going to be my favorite place on our itinerary. And judging by your photos, I’m already in love with it. =)
Super, wow. I love Serbia and it’s so nice to have a reading bringing some memories back! Novi Sad is not really Serbian though. It’s so…well, Habsburg Austro-Hungarian kind of town…I loved it anyways:-) What’s next? I loved my one-day trip to Smederevo, the fortress is so cool!
We’ve only been to Belgrade, but we really enjoyed it there. While there is some evidence of bombing, it’s very minimal and Serbia feels very similar to Hungary or even Croatia to me. Bosnia, however, is a whole other story.
I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised 🙂 I found it to be a wonderful country with a ton of hidden treasures, especially in the landscapes and the people. Pristine in many cases….just stunning vistas.
The best place in Novi Sad is spending the day down at the ‘Strand’ where you can swim in the Danube (there are lifeguards even) on the sandy beach. Beer gardens, restaurants, entertainment. Brilliant place.
Thank you for sharing a little of the magic of Serbia in a story that is, as always, beautiful written and enlightening. I love the way you speak of the people and document the city. The first image, a quiet street that ends at a church, and the third, of a flute player with one flute in hand, and a second tucked into his belt, are those that I will carry with me. I look forward to your updates!
Thanks, Mary. The friendliness and warmth of the people in Serbia was a really delightful thing to experience. I wanted to try to get that across as well as I could.
Hello, I see You have written “city’s biggest Orthodox church”. If You are referring to the one with a colorful Gothic tower, it is actually a Roman Catholic cathedral. Vojvodina region is the most ethnically and religiously diverse part of the country…
Thanks for the details! Honestly, I can’t quite remember which church I was referring to when I wrote this a few years ago. There are quite a few in Novi Saf and, as you say, of different faiths. The two most important Orthodox Churches seem to be the Three Saint Bishops and St George Cathedral… so maybe I was thinking of one of them?
How great to see that you’ve enjoyed my hometown! 🙂
As a small Balkan country, Serbia doesn’t have any monumental historical sites in comparison with France, Paris, etc. But I think it’s a very pleasant place to be.
Please Help my.
Ja trazim moju drugaricu od Novi Sad. Pa sve sta sam vec probala , nije nista bilo. Molim pomognite meni, da ja nadjem; Ema Leder, Stanoja GLavasa 58, 21000 Novi Sad
Mi smo zajedno isli u skolu1953 god., a sada vec 30 god. ne cujem nista vise.
Molim vas vajlda mozete vi nesto da nadjete, gde ona sada zivi. Mnogo vam kazem HVALA,
Hi, I’m Carlos from Spain. Last summer I went to Novi Sad, for the Exit festival. A great city! Stayed at Prenociste Dvoriste, saw everything you wrote about, went to Sremski Karlovci to buy a few bottles of great wine, saw Petrovaradin fortress, Strand beach…
Decided to go again next year, because I fell in love with this beautiful city. And I think you understand, you wrote a great article about it.